Recently, Jerry Coyne seemed rather excited and enthused by a blog essay written by Victor Stenger (“Physicist, PhD, bestselling author”) entitled, “The Fall of Foolish Faith.” So I had to check it out.
Stenger’s whole thesis is rooted in sensationalistic, black and white thinking, the very type of thinking we might expect from a fundamentalist:
I want to urge those of you who are not scientists to try to convince those who are to stop pussyfooting around with religion and confront the reality of what it is and always has been — a blight on humanity that has hindered our progress for millennia and now threatens our very existence.
Stenger’s argument is that scientific advancement has worked to endanger our species through overpopulation, pollution, and global warming. And it is religion that is preventing us from fixing these problems. If we don’t put religion away in some safe box, we’re all doomed. For example, according to Stenger, we already have the technology to generate cheap and safe alternative energy through liquid thorium nuclear reactors, but apparently, you see, there is a conspiracy among religious people to keep this technology hidden away because they’d otherwise have to give up their nuclear bombs. Yeah, that’s gotta be it.
If we would only get rid of religion, our very existence would no longer be under threat. This is the irrational thinking that has become common among the community that sells itself as the champions of reason. But Stenger takes it to the next level. He seems angry that more scientists have not bought into his extremism and paranoia, as he makes several swipes at the scientific community.
First, he implies that most scientists are cowardly and selfish:
Most scientists prefer to stay out of any conflicts with religion. They don’t want to endanger their sources of research funding and generally just don’t want to be bothered.
See? They prefer to stay out of it. In Stenger’s mind, our very existence is threatened and those scientists just can’t be bothered because they don’t want to lose their grant money.
He continues his attack on scientists:
Most scientists do not realize that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. This is not because they have thought about it. It is because they prefer not to think about it.
See? They prefer not to think about it. It looks to me that he is accusing scientists of willful negligence. If only they would just make an effort to think about it like he did, they’d all agree with him!
He continues his attack on scientists:
Fundamentalists know science and religion are incompatible, since science disputes so much of what is in the Bible, which they take as the literal word of God. To them, science is simply wrong and must be Christianized. A well-funded effort exists to do just that, while most scientists sit on the sidelines because they prefer not to get involved.
See? They prefer not to get involved even when it comes to those fundamentalists trying to Christianize science. You can almost hear Stenger scream, “What will it take to get them off the sidelines and on to our team!!”
Okay, critical thinking time. What do you think is more likely?
Scenario A: Our very existence is under threat by the blight of religion, which has never done a damn good thing throughout all of history. But scientists don’t want to defend our existence and confront this evil because they prefer not to upset anyone and possibly lose their money. They would rather stick their heads in the sand.
Scenario B: Stenger vastly overstates his concerns and relies on emotional, simplistic, black-and-white thinking to make his case in popular forums. When scientists hear it, in their minds they roll their eyes and politely brush him off not to offend him too much.
I vote B.
Bottom line here is that the New Atheist movement continues to move into more and more extreme territory. Look, when your fear and hatred of religion becomes so intense that you find yourself straying into places where you attack scientists for not agreeing with you and joining your anti-religious movement, it’s probably a sign that you should pause and reconsider just how rational your position actually is.